Sven Nys headlined the presentation for a small audience of the cyclo-cross team Landbouwkrediet-KDL on Wednesday afternoon at the Landbouwkrediet headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Nys is the top gun of the team next to Sven Vanthourenhout and neo-professional Vincent Baestaens. The team also has an amateur wing which contains Robert Gavenda, Martin Zlamalik and Bart Verschueren but mostly riders from the youth categories. The new structure was formed during the summer, and Nys was proud of this achievement. "I'm proud to be sitting here with the whole team."
The 35 year-old Belgian has played a part in mentoring the newer riders in all aspects of the sport, perhaps testing out the job for his retirement which is planned for 2014. "It's a complete turnaround for me to be training in a playful way. Also, it's closing the gap between being a professional athlete and a retired athlete," Nys said.
Before he hangs up his racing wheels, Nys has two more goals to fulfill - first, winning another cyclo-cross world title and second, to make the Belgian team for the London Olympics in 2012 on the mountain bike.
Nys finished ninth in the cross country race in 2008, but his qualification for next year's Games was impacted by a torn muscle in his knee this summer. Kevin Van Hoovels has already qualified one of the two spots after taking 15th in the world championships in Champerey this summer, and Nys knows he has to change his schedule to have the form to earn points toward taking the second spot.
"Paul [Van Den Bosch] and I are creating a plan to get me at the Olympics in the most energy-efficient way. I will not put my money on being good in one or two races because I have to be at my best during the Olympic race. Every point is a point closer to the total amount of needed points. How? I'll give away one hint: if you're 35 then it might be better to keep riding at the end of the cyclo-cross season instead of resting for three weeks," Nys said.
Nys said his Olympic goals, however, will always take a back seat to cyclo-cross. "Mountain biking is always second to cyclo-cross. I will be there this season from beginning to end. Every year until I retire I want to win one of the three cyclo-cross series [World Cup, Superprestige or Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy]. I also want to become world champion one more time," Nys said.
Having only worn the rainbow bands once despite a dominating career, Nys thinks this year's championship in Koksijde will provide a good opportunity to revisit his past glory. "It's finally a world championship race worth the name. The last ten years it was always a race with fast highway roads. In Koksijde, strength and power come into its own, it's my playground there," Nys said.
He made it clear, however, that the goal of winning Worlds will not take away from the rest of his season aims. "If everybody were to focus on the world championships then that would be the end of cyclo-cross as a sport. We are expected to ride our world championship race every weekend. If that wasn't the case then the attention of media and spectators would decrease. I don't care much about that, but a younger rider should give it a second thought," Nys said.
In past years, it has been Nys, Zdenek Stybar and Niels Albert who have traded blows on the winter weekends, but Nys added a new name to his list of rivals, but said each rider has his specialities.
"At the end of last season Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) closed the gap. [He] can be good in every race. I excel in the tough races like the classics: Koppenbergcross, Baal, Asper-Gavere... I expect Niels [Albert] to be good at the World Cup races like Plzen and Tabor which are somewhat faster with less power and technical skills required," Nys said.
"Stybar is the big question mark," he added, noting the Czech's dual goals of defending his world title and aiming toward the Spring Classics on the road. "I picked up some experience in that subject in the past and learned that if you're riding a full cyclo-cross program that you get into problems after 200km. If Stybar puts all his energy in cyclo-cross then his spring season will not be good. If he's saving energy once in a while it could succeed. The top road riders are doing long extensive training rides from October on, making kilometers while avoiding going into the red zone. We're doing nothing else all winter long by riding and running through mud and sand."
USA world championships worth a gamble
During the presentation Nys was asked what he thought about the rumours reaching him that there would be funding problems for the Louisville 2013 world championships. The rumours were not helped by the quotes from former world champion Bart Wellens who visited the location and stated there was much work to be done.
Nys is part of the UCI cyclo-cross commission and he wasn't worried. "In a few months from now there's a world championship race in Koksijde too and there isn't any wiring there yet either. There are a lot of races in the USA and the only things they lack are spectators and big sponsors. We have to think thoroughly about what to do now. If needed the UCI can come across with funding to help out the organisation. If this gamble can make the sport grow then I think it's worth the risk. We shouldn't do it if the time's not ripe for it," Nys said.